Bronwyn Watson 'Art Meets Meteorology' 2013

colour theories

Art meets Meteorology

IN the early 1800s, a young John Constable became enthralled by nature painting, captivated by how he could depict the changing sky, its clouds and even rainbows.
For two years, from 1820 to 1822, he undertook a series of outdoor studies in which he meticulously documented the weather conditions for each of his pictures. This was the foundation work that eventually made him such a renowned landscape painter.
In short, Constable was fascinated by the melding of art and meteorology. He even travelled across Britain lecturing on the meteorological basis for his paintings.
His depiction of clouds, for instance, was influenced by the work of scientist Luke Howard, who in 1803 published a ground-breaking essay on cloud classification. Constable also studied the scientific properties of rainbows, one of his most beloved subjects.
This fascination with the juncture of art and meteorology has continued in the work of a contemporary, Perth-based artist Sine MacPherson, who has long been interested in weather forecasts, wind force scales and rainbows.
To prepare her paintings, MacPherson initially painstakingly researches and collates weather data. She then transforms this data into visual images, giving the statistics a visual code.
For instance, in one of her early series, Panorama, from 2007, she analysed the weather forecasts for the nation's eight capital cities from the pages of The Australian between 2004 and 2007. She then painted 84 pictures, each titled with the place and date, to represent the difference between each state and territory's weather.
In Windforce (2009), she referenced the Beaufort wind force scale for a series of paintings based on nautical sail settings.
In one of her more recent painting series, Rainbow, MacPherson again translates textual information about natural phenomena - in this case, rainbows - into a visual equivalent by analysing how the purity of colours and the density of a rainbow are affected by the size of a raindrop.
The Rainbow series was bought recently by the Art Gallery of Western Australia, and when I visit Perth to see the work, the gallery's curator of contemporary art, Jenepher Duncan, explains the series "meticulously tracks the sumptuous perceptual effects of what happens when the precise angle between sun, raindrop and eye meets and creates the dazzling sequence of colours that is a rainbow".
Each of the three paintings in the Rainbow series consists of about 40,000 little dots and each painting offers a different scenario of colour sequences, from big drops with more red to small drops with less red and brighter blue, finally paling out to white when there is a mist.
Duncan says she is constantly amazed by MacPherson's dedication to realising her ideas about colour and the descriptive language of visual phenomena and visual systems. She is also amazed by her commitment to translating those ideas on to the canvas effectively.
"You can image the application that is involved in this process," Duncan says.
"There have been a lot of wonderful artists who have dealt with the weather and the effects of the weather, from Turner to Constable onwards, but MacPherson is singular like that within the contemporary Australian art context.
"Her paintings are extensively referenced from art history, literature, the dictionary and physical science texts, which informs her excursions into an expressive abstraction.
"I love that connection to natural phenomena and so I was very taken with this particular work because of its connection to the natural world and the extraordinary ability of the artist to translate what's an ephemeral visual effect into a material outcome."

Sine MacPherson, Rainbow 1, Rainbow 2, Rainbow 3 from the Rainbow series (2011). State Art Collection, Art Gallery of Western Australia. Purchased through the TomorrowFund, Art Gallery of Western Australia Foundation, 2011. On display, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth.

Bronwyn Watson, The Australian, Review, Visual Arts, PUBLIC WORKS, page 13, April 6-7, 2013